Hungover Surgeons More Prone To Errors

If your surgeon was in to the bubbly the night before he’s scheduled to do your procedure, you might want to pretend you have a fever. A study published in the Archives of Surgery this month stated that doctors who had “drank freely to intoxication” the night before scheduled surgeries had far higher error rates the next day, even if their blood alcohol levels were zero and even as late as the next afternoon.

Teams of doctors were told to abstain from alcohol or drinking freely the night before the assessments were to take place. The next day, the doctors carried out laparoscopic procedures (keyhole surgeries) on a virtual reality system (certainly relieving that the tests were not carried out on actual live patients). The doctors who had indulged made 50% more errors than the doctors who had stayed sober.

While this finding is not necessarily surprising, the fact is that doctors have high rates of alcohol abuse, which make this finding even more troubling. The Globe and Mail cited two studies, one a 2005 Norwegian study that showed surgeons are more likely to abuse alcohol than physicians in other specialties, as well as a Yale study showing that for physicians in general, alcohol is the most commonly abused substance.

While this could lead to an awkward conversation on the individual level (“Hey, Doc, how many beers did you have last night?”) it might be worthwhile for new regulations to be put in place for doctors and alcohol consumption, such as it is with pilots who are not permitted to fly within 8 hours of consuming alcohol.

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Photo credit: salimfadhley on Flickr

38 comments

Amanda H.
Amanda H.3 years ago

Isn't that stating the b*****ng obvious??????????

Magdalen B.
Magdalen B.3 years ago

Breaking news eh?

Natasha Salgado

Duhhhhh....You think????

Jane R.
Jane R.5 years ago

I've read to NEVER schedule surgery on a Monday or Friday. On Monday the Dr. or nurses could all be impaired by too much partying the night before. On Friday, the Dr. and all staff are thinking about their plans for the weekend, anxious to get off as early as possible. And if your Dr. is going on vacation, don't schedule surgery for his last two days of working. His mind will be elsewhere.

Bennie S.
Bennie S.5 years ago

No shit sherlock...

Michael R.
Michael R.5 years ago

They needed a study to determin this?

Barbara S.

In 1949 my mother (who was going through a divorce and didn't want more children than the two she already had) was scheduled for, and underwent the procedure to have her tubes tied. The doctor who performed the surgery wreaked of whiskey the morning of the procedure, but my mom was only 17 at the time, and this was taking place in a small town in the midwest. She survived the surgery, but until her death in 2008 she carried a "Y"-shaped scar, visible even through a girdle, and the muscles in her stomach which were cut that day were never stitched back together properly, so she always looked as though she was 5 months pregnant, even when she was thin.

My mom was lucky - she survived, although maimed for life.

Years later I worked at a hospital in California, during the night shift. It was not uncommon for doctors to be called-in to do emergency surgeries on some of their patients, in the late evenings or the middle of the nights... and neither was it uncommon for many of them to be tipsy and have the scent of alcohol on their breaths. When I talked to my supervisor about this, I was told to keep my mouth shut if I wanted to keep my job, because the long-term doctors could get any one of us fired if we ticked any of them off. I didn't stay long at that job... And when I left, I wrote a letter to the head of the hospital, outlining my observations and fears. To my knowledge, nothing was ever done to ensure the safety of the patients, thereafter.

Lynne B.
Lynne Buckley5 years ago

I'd say that this was pretty obvious, but obviously not to the surgeons if they operate in this condition.

Erica Bastow
Erica B.5 years ago

I agree with Marie W. I mean, HELLO! What do you THINK is going to happen if your surgeon has a hangover?! DUH! Was this study...or this article...even necessary? Sorry Shannon, hope you don't take offense, but I mean...REALLY!

Marie W.
Marie W.5 years ago

Another foregone conclusion study-- what is going on here, is everyone so dumbed down.. and where can I sign up to be paid for these no brainer studies?!!